Sion Sono’s one of my favourite directors and his 2008 effort Love Exposure is an astonishing film, a four hour epic which sounds seedy as it initially follows a teenager in to upskirt photography but it soon becomes so much more than this and has a great selection of powerful female characters, it’s a fireworks display of emotion and action and truly unpredictable insanity with it’s 240 minute screen time feeling like 90. I initially planned to watch it over the course of two evenings but couldn’t stop watching it, even though it meant being exhausted the next day I don’t regret a thing. A lot of his work isn’t really suitable for the site though as it often covers strange and unsettling themes or is just downright bizarre as in the cases of Exte, a movie about killer hair extensions, and Suicide Club, which has one of the most shocking openings to a film that’s ever been made.
Sono also has an incredibly impressive work rate, he’s directed 39 movies since 1987, several shorts, contributed segments to other films and also helmed tv series, and one day I hope to see everything he’s ever made as I’ve yet not watched anything I haven’t loved. Admittedly as I only discovered him last year this is just nine of his films but all have been fascinating, and examples of the very best of their specific genres and styles, and that he can be so talented in so many fields almost sickens but I’m just beyond glad that he exists and offers us up so many cinematic gems.
Love & Peace is a surprising piece of work from the man though as it’s family friendly as it revolves around Ryoichi (Hiroki Hasegawa), a shy and nervous 33 year old man who dreams of being a rock star. He’s a loser in the eyes of others, mocked by his colleagues, strangers and even those on tv, but Sono never judges him this way and he’s always portrayed sympathetically, even when life starts to get really crazy. For when he buys a turtle that he names Pikadon, and who he quickly declares to be his best (if only) friend, everything starts changing for Ryoichi in ways you’ll never predict. Mainly because Ryoichi flushes Pikadon down the toilet after being bullied at work about the fact that he carries him everywhere, and we’re presented with the turtle’s adventures in the sewer. If you’re anything like me (for which you have my sympathies) what he finds will make you laugh with delight, and this is the first time of many where you’ll have such a reaction.
Everything which follows is a mix of magic realism, misunderstandings and mishaps, all of which only serve to take Ryoichi closer towards his dream of performing at the Tokyo Olympic stadium on Christmas day. There’s satire of the cynical ways of the music industry, a very sweet romance, a huge dose of daftness, incredibly catchy songs (for once this is a song about a fictional musician where you can understand why they became huge) and a lesson to be learnt for all involved. There is a bittersweet side to events, this is Sono after all, and as Ryoichi becomes more and more famous the more of an arsehole he becomes. But will he learn the error of his ways? Be reunited with Pikadon forever more? Or end up exploding, covering the room with his blood and guts? This being Sion Sono I was still prepared for everything to go horribly wrong at any moment as he’s the kind of director who loves fucking with audiences, but for once even though there are moments of sadness in the second half he presents us with an ending which is all kinds of lovely.
While writing the review it was shockingly difficult not to give away major plot points or celebrate moments that I absolutely adored, but part of the joy of the film is the way it’ll wrong foot your expectations from scene to scene and by doing any of the above it’d spoilt it for people. All I can do is implore everyone reading this to seek it out, and if you want to have the best of Christmas Days you should gather your family around the television and watch this.